The Associated Press
LAGOS, Nigeria — The performers pounded on animal-skin drums, the singer howled praise for Barack Obama, and the audience of fist-bumping supporters of the U.S. presidential candidate joined in the chorus: “We can do it! Yes we can!”
The shindig, held by a group calling itself “Africans for Obama 08,” drew hundreds of people from the Nigerian business elite. Each paid more than $2,000 to munch on grilled snails, sip from flutes of Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon and join in a lively, if poorly executed, series of the “fist bumps” popularized by Obama and his wife, Michelle.
Interest in the U.S. presidential race is blooming around the world’s poorest continent as Obama emerges as the Democratic candidate, stunning many here who never believed that a son of Africa had a real shot at leading the United States. Now, with roasted snails and Champagne, text messages and T-shirts, both political organizers and entrepreneurs are seeking to harness the growing enthusiasm for Obama’s message of youthful change, which resonates on a continent where leaders often hang on as long as possible.
“In Africa, we just keep recycling the same old people, so change isn’t welcome. Let people who are unique, who are young, who have ideas — let them come up,” said Robinson Allen, a 40-year old banker at a recent gala in support of Obama. He said Obama’s achievements show a triumph over discrimination. “It’s an event that’s enabling for all people.”
The group says it plans to use the proceeds for advertisements in African media urging people to pray for Obama. The message, according to one organizer: “We can’t vote for you, but we can pray for you.” Similar efforts are under way in Tanzania, South Africa and Kenya, organizers said.
Another Nigerian group, “Blacks Unite for Obama 08,” is running full-page ads in the country’s mass dailies asking customers to send text messages costing about 75 cents in support of Obama, while registering to win a trip to the United States.
In Ghana, songs boosting Obama run on the radio. An artist called Blakk Rasta sings in pidgin English of his pride at Obama’s quest: “Originally stepping out of Kenya, Africa/Adopted into the cold woodlands of America/Dem youthboy defied every order and turned a Senator.”
And in Uganda, about 5,000 students at Makarere University have joined the Obama Solidarity Group, essentially a fan club for the candidate. Its leader, Patrick Rutalo, cited Obama’s example in his own successful drive for student body president. “He inspires young leaders to go for the highest offices,” said Rutalo.
In fact, the Obama infatuation seems to have somewhat annoyed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who told Ugandans to turn their attention in more self-fulfilling directions. “Obama, Obama, Obama. He is an American. Why are you looking at him and not yourself? Why don’t you build your strength here?” Museveni said at a news conference.
The interest in Obama may be highest in Kenya, where his father was born and lived before traveling to study in the United States. There, vendors sell T-shirts, key chains, banners and hats to capitalize on the popularity of the candidate locals consider practically a native son.